As the UK takes its first steps towards easing the coronavirus lockdown, many small businesses are making plans to get back up and running.
Some of those who have been unable to work from home since the lockdown began are now opening up their workplaces with social distancing measures in place, while others are preparing to restart in a few months’ time.
For accountants who have just been through the busy and at times stressful experience of supporting their clients as they went into lockdown, a new trial is at hand – helping them to gradually come out of it.
We’ve been keeping an eye on the way small and micro-business owners on UK Business Forums (UKBF) have responded to the recent changes to lockdown, and have put together a report summarising their questions, concerns and priorities.
Keeping clients updated
Throughout the coronavirus outbreak, major changes to the way we live and work have happened at a rapid pace.
The last week has been another example of this. After Boris Johnson’s lockdown announcement on Sunday 10 May, changes to the furlough scheme were made public on Tuesday, and some businesses had already started to reopen on Wednesday.
On UKBF, as early as the Saturday before the Prime Minister’s appearance on TV, questions had already started to emerge about how to manage the transition back to work, and what it would mean for staff on furlough.
There were also concerns about social distancing in the workplace, and confusion about the specifics of Government advice as it came out.
How can you, as accountants, use this intelligence to guide your communications strategy?
Producing relevant content that covers announcements as and when they happen should help to answer those questions and reassure your clients before they even need to ask.
At the same time, this will help you to show your expertise as an adviser – something a lot of business owners will be looking for at the moment, and in months to come.
Helping with key decisions
With around 7.5 million people in the UK on furlough, accountants have already found themselves snowed under with clients’ applications since the portal for the coronavirus job retention scheme opened in April.
Now that the scheme has been extended to the end of October, and its rules are set to become more complex from August onwards, that workload is looking likely to increase.
This might not be ideal for many accountants, who would rather be offering valuable business support than manually filling out applications, but there are also opportunities to advise.
As the scheme starts to allow for increased flexibility, you could be talking to your clients about whether or not furlough is still the best option for them, and what their strategy will be for starting to move staff back to work.
The same goes for advising on other schemes, such as loans or grants for the self-employed. You can help your clients to determine how they can put the financial support they receive to good use, with a focus on what lies ahead for their business once Government support eventually comes to an end.
A major concern expressed by users on UKBF was the likelihood of a recession in 2020, with many expecting more serious consequences than those seen in the 2008 financial crisis.
Your clients might also be worried about this, or they might not have given it much thought while dealing with the immediate concerns of the lockdown.
Either way, now may be a good time to start a conversation with your clients about the future of their business, what they can do to safeguard themselves, and what they might need to change to manage the challenges this year might bring.
As one UKBF user put it:
“Some small businesses will, of course, be able to cope with the recession better than many larger ones. But it is going to get competitive out there.”
In that new competitive environment, expert advice will make all the difference.
In our report, ‘Beyond lockdown: the road ahead for the UK’s small businesses’, we offer an insight into what’s important to small businesses, along with practical tips on how your firm can support them.
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